restricted access Talking Horse
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Talking f-Iorse by Bernard Malamvtd EDITORS' PREFACE This strange allegory presents us with a talking horse, Abramowitz , and his deafmaster, Goldberg. The allegory makes special use of Goldberg's deafness to intensify the feelings offrustration that Abramowitz experiences in trying to free himself of Goldberg's control. Goldberg refuses to allow Abramowitz to ask questions, and then refuses to answer if Abramowitz does ask a question . In this way, Malamud is able to give us a sense of what many people feel intuitively-life is unfair and does not ever let us know what is happening to us. Abramowitz feels trapped (also a common feeling) because Goldberg keeps him in a ridiculous circus routine to make their living, a routine that Abramowitz finds stupid and boring (like many jobs). Abramowitz feels trapped inside himself, that is, he suspects maybe he is a man inside a horse. Allegorically , there is a free, living person trapped inside a body that performs a dull job and that does not get answers to the important questions of life. We all feel that way at times-we go through the days, performing, feeling bored, trapped, exploited, and yet we go on, even though we know there is another person inside us trying to get out. Abramowitz is like that. Another aspect of the allegory is that Abramowitz, being a horse, is, of course, stronger than Goldberg, who is a mere human. And so Goldberg could not really stop Abramowitz ifAbramowitz wanted to break away from Goldberg. And therefore we are led to the conclusion that Abramowitz 173 • The Twentieth Century • is really a partner to his own imprisonment, as we all are who refuse to strive for our freedom. And what does Goldberg's deafness add to this allegory? Since Abramowitz must speak for Goldberg, and Goldberg controls Abramowitz, and since Goldberg at the end strangely disappears, we suspect that Goldberg is not meant as a real person but represents an authority figure whom Abramowitz carries around in his head-again, something we all do. A parent, teacher, priest, anyone who had influenced us or all ofthem put together-these are the authorities we carry around with us all the time and who keep us bound to their rules and ideas, even after we leave them and see them no more. Goldberg controlled Abramowitz but only because Abramowitz allowed it. Goldberg's deafness, then, is a way of making him allegorically a creature of Abramowitz' compulsive obedience. His deafness and muteness rob Goldberg of a sense of real existence because he can communicate only through other people. (De Musset had seen this aspect of deafness also when he referred to Camille, in "Pierre and Camille," as "the phantom of a being.") The story is a story ofAbramowitz' struggle to free himself of this creature who controls him like a puppet. Goldberg's deafness makes us feel, directly, the effort of this struggle, for it makes us understand Goldberg's unapproachability, and it makes his aloofness and distance more palpable. Abramowitz' suspicion that he is not really a horse-not just a horse, that is-but perhaps a man, or a man inside a horse, cannot be confirmed, however, until he begins to rebel against Goldberg. He does and finally succeeds in his rebellion by emerging not as horse or man, but as centaur, half man and half horse. Centaurs represented the wild, natural life to the Greeks, so when Abramowitz becomes a centaur, we are to take it that he has finally been liberated from his compulsive obedience to the Goldberg in his life, and that he has finally come to life. He is described as a "free centaur" at the end, the emphasis being on both "free" and "centaur"-he is free of the authority he had carried in his head, and he is thus a "centaur," strong, natural, alive. 174 • Talking Horse • TALKING HORSE Q. Am I a man in a horse or a horse that talks like a man? Suppose they took an X-ray, what would they see?-a man's luminous skeleton prostrate inside a horse, or just a horse with a complicated voice box? If the first, then Jonah had it better in the whale-more room all around; also he knew who he was and how he had got there. About myself I have to make guesses. Anyway after three days and nights the big fish stopped at Nineveh and Jonah took his valise and got off...